We are super excited to welcome Maisey Yates to the Pink Heart Society, as she talks about interracial relationships and the importance of diversity in category romance...
My husband and I have been married for nine years. As love stories go ours is sweet, but not especially unique or dramatic.
We met at a church camp, but I was far too young for him and he has no memory of me. Then we started working together (yes, he was my boss) from there a friendship developed, and through that friendship came love. Nine years, three kids, and a lot of books later, I still think he’s the best.
Oh yes, and he's black and I'm white.
By and large we don't consider that a part of our narrative. Yes, we sometimes have to confront challenges that other couples don't. We have to make considerations when we think about where we might travel, or where we might move. We had to deal with a family member disapproving of our relationship. But it is not now, nor has it ever been, a large part of our love story.
That was the inspiration for me to write my book The Highest Price To Pay. I could find romances that featured interracial couples, but very few where race wasn't the topic. I never felt like that was reflective of my life. As I've often told people, our marriage is the same as anyone else's. He still has dirty socks, and I still have to wash them. (Although, truth be told, he does more laundry than I will ever do.)
I wanted to read a romance that reflected my experience.
I wrote The Highest Price to Pay and received great support from Harlequin. There were definitely some concerns, and some discussions on how to handle things on the marketing angle. That was both disheartening for me and unsurprising. Of course, we want to sell copies of the book. And unfortunately very often people will opt not to pick up a book because somehow the addition of a person of color, or the representation of an interracial couple puts them off, or makes the story seem "un-relatable."
Ultimately, the book came out in a two in one in the United States and the cover ended up not being an issue, the book sold quite well, and I have not yet received backlash from readers in the states.
Upon release in the UK, however, I did receive an email from a book club (not a racist book club, they were very quick to clarify) who asked that I no longer write books about ‘these types of people’. I did not reply. I simply forwarded the email to my editor, and then asked on Twitter for people to email my publisher in support of the book. (They did. I was contacted by marketing the next day to ask what had happened because they received so many emails.)
What's the point of the story? There are obstacles to writing diverse characters and romance. It isn't a nonissue yet. You will have to contend with stores being afraid to stock books, out of concern for sales.
You will probably have to contend with the odd ugly letter, and hideously unaware review that says grossly offensive things about interracial relationships "turning the reader’s stomach." (This happened to Jules Bennet in a review for her novella in the Animal Attraction anthology. I stumbled onto that review and let me tell you…it turned MY stomach.)
But, even since I wrote that first book back in 2011 things have changed. This is where this becomes a difficult post to write, because even as I single out examples of diversity in romance, it's very clear that these are exceptions, and not the rule. It's very clear that diversity in romance, in mainstream publishing, is relatively rare. It reminds me a lot of that Joss Whedon quote. “So, why do you write these strong female characters? Because you're still asking me that question”
As long as it's necessary to do posts on diversity and romance, it's clear that we haven't quite arrived where we need to. I write diverse characters because it reflects my life. We are an interracial couple, our children are mixed race. That, to me, is normal. That is what my life looks like.
I write diverse characters because I believe everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in a book. I write them because it reflects my life. I believe that we are all people who fall in love, who carry baggage from our pasts, who say wonderful things, and hurtful things. As idealistic as it sounds we are all the same. I will keep writing diverse characters until it's no longer remarkable in any way. Until we don’t look at people who come from different backgrounds and think their stories are un-relatable.
On a positive note we are seeing more and more diversity in category romance. Solider’s Rescue Mission by Cindy Dees is a wonderful example of that, and of representation of that on the cover. ( I LOVE this cover.) By and large I feel covers are getting a bit less coy, the content of category romance has often been more diverse than their packaging.
I was extremely pleased with the cover of my book Heir to a Dark Inheritance, which has an Indian heroine. I fell at the cover representation was very well done. Likewise, I have an Arabic heroine in my November presents To Defy A Sheikh, and I was thrilled with the representation of both characters on the cover.
And I’m personally seeing that readers are willing to pick up my books, no matter the ethnic background of the characters. I get far more positive letters than negative. In fact, I haven’t gotten one since that wonderful tome from the Not Racist Book club.
I hope that’s a sign that things are changing, and will continue to change.
In terms of content I'm going to list a few more examples of diversity and category romance from the past couple of years. In the comments, I would invite you to leave any that you know about that I might have missed.
There are lines dedicated to diversity and to focusing on people of color, but there are also writers bringing diversity into other lines, which is the focus of this list. (Also, I’m shamelessly including…well, myself, because I know about my books. So easy.)
Rodeo Dreams by Sarah M Anderson
Partner in Crime by Jules Bennett in the Animal Attraction Anthology
The Sinful Art of Revenge by Maya Blake
Whatthe Greek Wants Most by Maya Blake (not yet released)
Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage by Susanna Carr
An Heir to Bind Them by Dani Collins
The Most Expensive Lie of All by Michelle Conder
Not Just the Boss's Plaything by Caitlin Crews
Protecting the Desert Heir by Caitlin Crews (not yet released)
Captive But Forbidden by Lynn Raye Harris
The Secret Affair and Bachelor Undone by Brenda Jackson (available for pre-order)
Proud Revenge, Passionate Wedlock by Janette Kenny
The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin
My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin
Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin
Going the Distance by Meg Maguire
Monsoon Wedding Fever by Shoma Narayanan
His Wife for One Night by Molly O’Keefe
The Man to Be Reckoned With by Tara Pammi (available for pre-order)
Marriage on the Rebound by Michelle Reid (this one might be tricky to find)
His Uptown Girl by Liz Talley
Breaking All Her Rules by Maisey Yates
Heir to a Dark Inheritance by Maisey Yates
The Highest Price to Pay by Maisey Yates
Snowed in With Her Boss by Maisey Yates in the Christmas With a Billionaire Anthology
To Defy a Sheikh by Maisey Yates
Maisey's latest story, Snowed in With Her Boss, has an interracial couple and can be found in the Christmas with a Billionaire Anthology:
She's posing as her handsome boss's girlfriend. (So bad it's good!) But is she pretending...or practicing with Luc Chevalier?
Dutiful Amelia is stranded on Christmas Eve. (Bad.) She's at a five-star Aspen resort. (Good!) She's posing as her handsome boss's girlfriend. (So bad it's good!) But is she pretending…or practicing with Luc Chevalier? - See more at: http://www.maiseyyates.com/books/snowed-boss-christmas-billionaire/#sthash.qU6G4Dk9.dpukd